Monsanto takes aim at unhealthy fats

The company’s announcement follows the recent establishment of Food and Drug Administration guidelines that will require food manufacturers to disclose the amount of trans-fat on food labels by 2006.

"Monsanto researchers are looking at ways to enhance soybeans so that they are healthier and, in turn, can reduce risks that lead to cardiovascular disease," said David Stark, Monsanto's vice president of Global Industry Partnerships. Stark made the announcement today at the American Dietetic Association's annual meeting in San Antonio.

"It is our hope that these enhanced soybeans will provide economic and environmental benefits for growers, and healthier agricultural solutions for consumers who are concerned about their intake of unhealthy fats."

Specifically, Monsanto is applying conventional breeding techniques to produce a soybean low in linolenic acid. The process of hydrogenation reduces the amount of linolenic acid in soy oil and creates trans-fatty acids. This soybean would produce a soy oil that reduces the need for hydrogenation, and, in turn, could help reduce trans-fats in many foods and even eliminate trans-fats in some.

This product, which is currently being tested both in the field and laboratory, should be available in limited quantities in time to meet the federal government's 2006 labeling guidelines for trans-fats in food products.

Monsanto also is applying conventional breeding techniques to produce a soybean high in oleic acid. This soybean, which also would be low in linolenic acid, would produce soy oil high in levels of healthy monounsaturated fat.

Once commercialized, the company intends to offer these traits in conjunction with its popular Roundup Ready technology, which has become the product of choice for American soybean growers.

Finally, Monsanto will apply biotechnology to develop a soybean that will enable the production of a trans- and saturated fat-free soy oil, the first natural oil that could make the claim of being saturated fat-free.

"Monsanto is committed to developing products that benefit growers, and to providing new products that deliver tangible benefits to consumers, including enhanced nutrition," Stark said.

Trans-fats, which are produced through the hydrogenation of soy oil to increase its shelf life or the solid nature of the fat, have been found to raise total blood cholesterol levels and levels of LDL cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol, and may contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Monsanto also is researching other quality improvement traits focused on delivering benefits to consumers. For example, the company is researching an oilseed crop that could produce a vegetable oil enriched with Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, typically found in fish oil, have been shown to play a part in keeping cholesterol levels low, stabilizing irregular heart beat (arrhythmia), and reducing blood pressure.

"Given the early stage of development of this research, we are working closely with academics, food companies, consumer advocates and other stakeholders to carefully develop our strategy for potential future products," Stark said.

"Ultimately, it is our hope that an Omega-3 enriched oil could provide consumers with a new tool against heart disease."

Monsanto's research on quality enhancements to soy oil is consistent with the objective of the United Soybean Board's Better Bean Initiative (BBI), a program created to enhance soybean oil and meal composition.

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